View Full Version : Homebrew Pathfinder linguistics

2010-10-31, 02:32 AM
One of the things that bugs me about the 3.5/pathfinder system is the ease of how characters can instantly learn a new language overnight and the retarded number of languages a character knows. I am wanting to make language a more important part of my next game, and came up with this. I'm hoping that it will keep wizards from just auto knowing every important language that comes up as well as add some verisimilitude and entertaining RP potential. Please let me know what you think if you find this interesting!

Each character gets bonus languages depending on their INT modifier as follows
>13 INT= class/ race languages only
13 INT= +1 bonus language
15 INT= +2 bonus languages

Even with higher INT, you cannot start with more bonus languages. Bonus languages (languages given through race, or INT score) are spoken by the character conversationally and easily

Any language may be learned by placing a point in the linguistics skill. But these ‘learned’ languages are not immediately mastered and take some effort to recall. Each time a character speaks using a language from linguistics, they must make a linguistic skill check. A character may take 10 on these checks
< DC 10 – a failure to communicate.
DC 10 - get the general message across, perhaps with some malapropos or fumbling for the right word. -5 penalty for bluff, diplomacy, intimidate, or vocal performance checks in this language
DC 15 – communicate adequately. It is clear the speaker is not native, but all the language is correct, albeit limited. -2 to language based checks
DC 20 – language is fluent and smooth, but with a noticeable accent to betray that the speaker did not grow up with the language. No penalty to language based checks


Magnus the human fighter decides he wants to try to learn the language of his elven allies, and feels just smart enough to try it. When he levels up he puts 1 point into linguistics and chooses ‘elven’. His INT is 12, so he gets a modifier of +2 to his linguistics check whenever he tries to speak elven. Taking 10, Magnus gets a 12 on his check, guaranteeing the elves will be able to understand him, but they will certainly not be impressed by his butchering of their language! He can try to roll for a higher result, perhaps trying to use more complex language but he risks rolling less than an 8, leaving him spouting complete gibberish and embarrassing his (former) elven allies

Teague the Halfling bard is a different story. He grew up knowing Halfling and Common, and picked up Dwarven and Goblin in his travels with ease thanks to his mighty intellect. (15 INT!) Now he wants to pick up elven to try to convince his allys he is not as incompetent as certain human fighters. He puts 1 rank into elven, plus a 3 bonus since it is a class skill for bards. This puts his linguistics check at a +6, meaning he can take 10 to get a 16 and talk to his allies with some grace. If Teague is feeling risky, he can roll it- he only needs a 14 to impress his allies with his quick tongue, and would have to roll a 3 or lower to botch the task completely. As he levels, he continues to put more ranks into linguistics, adding a new language each time while continuing to improve his elven until it becomes impossible for him to misspeak it.

2010-11-01, 07:29 AM
This makes magic more powerful than it currently is also in respect to languages. It's likely that in your campaign, PCs will spend money on spells/magic items which gives fluency in foreign languages and this will render your variant a mere language-tax on treasure.

2010-11-01, 07:46 AM
Also, anyone who cares enough about languages to bother putting points in Linguistics will automatically overcome any difficulties in communicating in any language their ranks give them by level 10. All in all, this strikes me as a finicky system with little real benefit, even failing to really accomplish the goal of making it more difficult for player's to have lots of languages.

2010-11-01, 02:24 PM
Your system doesn't work for one simple fact: languages are not hard to learn.

In your formula, you have it set up so that a character must have at least an Intelligence of 13 in order to learn additional languages. The average Intelligence of a commoner is around 8, yet languages are fairly easy to learn if you have a good strategy. Take English for example. "Dead" rhymes with "Bread," but if you pronounce it like "bead," instead you're saying "Deed." English has a lot of crazy rules and syntax to it compared to other languages, especially Korean, which I am told has a fairly logical system. Yet every American masters English by the time they are five. Learning a language has absolutely nothing to do with your Intelligence (though being bright certainly helps); it's an entirely different skill set. Hence why Linguistics grants additional languages.

Is it a perfect system? Well, no, but it's a proven fact that people who study language and can understand the little bits of syntax rules that make up all languages have a much easier type learning languages then people who do not.

If you feel like this needs to be changed, here's what I would suggest. Combine both the 3.5 and the Pathfinder way of doing it. Don't grant characters any languages except their automatic languages at first level. Add regional traits that, among their bonuses, allow you to speak the languages of that region. In addition, make it so you can buy a language for 2 skill points AND every rank of Linguistics grants you a language. This way, people that actually study language are still getting new languages easier then those that do not, but you don't need to be a linguist in order to learn to speak a new language.

EDIT: This also goes to why I think making checks for languages is silly and pointless, and it was one of the rules I was glad to see go away with the removal of the old Speak Language skill. It was basically a skill that only existed for a DM to grief their players. If you buy ranks in a language, you are assumed to have mastered it. However, if you want to make those rules apply to Linguistics, make it so you can make Linguistics checks you have not mastered.

For example, Bob can speak Common, Elven, and Dwarven. He walks around and meets a Drow, who speaks only Undercommon. Luckily, Bob has ranks in Linguistics, so he makes a Linguistics check to try and figure out how to say something in Undercommon, a language he does not know, to the Drow. You roll your check, apply bonuses, penalties, and modifiers, and go from there.

This also allows you to get really creative with your campaign setting by deciding which languages are similar enough for this to work with. In the above example, Sylvan, the language of nature, Elven, and Undercommon, the language of the Dark Elves are all similar, since they represent almost a linear progression of language in the way that Old English, English, and American English are similar. Because these languages follow similar rules, you might, per say, only have a -4 penalty on your Linguistics check. However, Gnomish is not an Elven language, so you might have a -8 to that, and with Ignan, well that's not even from this plane, so maybe that has a -12 penalty. Common, on the other hand, incorporates words and phrases from many different languages, so maybe the penalties are reduced by -2 for different categories if you speak Common.